Transit Trouble 

MATA’s proposed service cuts spark concern.

The Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) is proposing service cuts this fall that would affect almost 30 routes, and Memphis bus riders aren't happy.

The proposed changes include the elimination of seven routes. One of those is the coveted 31 Firestone, a demonstration route implemented last August that services the New Chicago area. When MATA created the Firestone route, Justin Davis of the Memphis Bus Riders' Union (MBRU) called it a "big victory" for the residents of New Chicago in North Memphis as the route restored service to an area that was lost when the 31 Crosstown route was discontinued in 2013.

click to enlarge Cuts threaten the 31 Firestone route. - MEMPHIS AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY
  • Memphis Area Transit Authority
  • Cuts threaten the 31 Firestone route.

John Lancaster, MATA's director of planning and Title VI officer, said the Firestone route could be eliminated because it didn't meet the "minimum lifeline standard" threshold of about five passengers per hour. Since the route was introduced, there's only been an average of about 4.5 riders an hour. Lancaster said taking the route away is a "tough choice," but that allowing it to continue would be "throwing away money."

"We are on a very tight budget," Lancaster said. "It's costing us extra money to provide service to these few people, and who do we take it away from? We don't want to take money away from more efficient routes."

But, Davis with MBRU said if the route is eliminated, those who do depend on public transit in the New Chicago neighborhood will "essentially have no service at all."

To that end, Gary Rosenfeld, MATA's CEO, said the agency is looking to develop creative solutions or alternatives to the standard fixed-bus routes in areas like New Chicago that need transit service, but often have low ridership.

"Constraints on our resources today warrant us to take a look at these numbers," Rosenfeld said. "We have to have this discussion every six months so that we make sure we're being good stewards of taxpayers' dollars. As we look for alternatives and ways to integrate new approaches to transit into the system, this area would be high on the list of trying something new."

Apart from eliminating routes, MATA is also planning to cut many weekend and late-night trips, as well as reduce the frequency of several routes. For example, MATA's proposed cutting Saturday service on the 13 Lauderdale and 17 McLemore in South Memphis.

"Put all that together, and MATA's plan will remove a huge amount of service from working-class neighborhoods and majority-black neighborhoods — all at once," Davis said. "What does this mean for bus riders? If these cuts go through, bus riders will lose jobs, drop out of classes, and lose access to their vote.

"For many people in Memphis who don't have cars, transit is the key to their livelihoods. And if we want to create more thriving neighborhoods, we can't keep cutting them off from the rest of the city."

The MATA Board of Commissioners will vote on the set of services changes at their next meeting on Thursday, September 27th at 3:30 at the MATA headquarters. If approved, the changes will go into effect on Sunday, November 11th.

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